Google vs. Amazon: Drones to deliver packages to ground robots?

Google appears to be getting serious about taking on Amazon in delivering packages by drone.

The Mountain View tech giant has applied to patent a system that combines drones with ground robots.

“Aerial delivery devices may be problematic for delivery to users,” said the patent application.

Not only could drones endanger pets, power lines and residents of a home, they may not be able to identify a drop-off spot that’s safe from thieves, according to the application, entered in September and made public April 5 by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

“Conventional aerial delivery device methods do not allow for safe, secure delivery of packages to delivery locations,” the application said.

Enter the ground-going robots. Communicating with the drones via infrared beacons, “mobile delivery receptacles” would meet their sky-going “delivery-device” colleagues at a safe and secure location near the delivery address.

“The delivery device deposits the package into the delivery receptacle,” the application said. “The delivery device transports the package to a secure location.”

Such a system would rival Amazon’s “Prime Air” drone-delivery service, which Amazon intends to use to get packages to consumers in 30 minutes or less. The firm says it has development centers for the system in the U.S., U.K., Austria and Israel, and is testing the service in a number of international locations.

Amazon has patented a drone that would land on extendable legs, and has also patented a birdhouse-like docking station for delivery drones, where they could recharge and download weather information.

Meanwhile, the race to develop systems for ground robot delivery is underway, with a number of startups seeking to deploy sidewalk-crawling autonomous machines, with one company testing out a six-wheeler in June 2016.

Google’s combination of drone and robot delivery is not guaranteed to see the light of day, as much patented technology never gets to market.

Photo: An Amazon Prime Air drone (courtesy of Amazon)


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